What’s the most heartbreaking single article you’ve ever read online?
This is a question I asked on Twitter a few years ago. I believe @telefrog has referred to this type of thing as “depression porn” in the past. He ain’t wrong. Anyway, I got a bunch of responses, but hands down the winner was this article. I mean it really wasn’t even close in the final analysis. This was the one.
I don’t recommend reading it, but if you do – particularly if you have children – be prepared. I am not kidding. It won a pulitzer and I can see why, because it will cut a hole all the way through you.
I basically wrote an entire blog post about the themes this article explores, defining what it means to be human through the lens of a very particular tragedy:
Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.
Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.
In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”
So much about this article stays with me over the years.
Then there is the Chattanooga, Tenn., business executive who must live with this: His motion-detector car alarm went off, three separate times, out there in the broiling sun. But when he looked out, he couldn’t see anyone tampering with the car. So he remotely deactivated the alarm and went calmly back to work.
I, honest to God, think about this guy every month since I read that article. Three times. You must live with that. Three times… whatever emotional burdens you think you may have, they ain’t shit compared to what this guy carries around every day for the rest of his life.
How do you ever come back from that? I don’t think you do.